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Travel Insurance and COVID-19: What One Woman's Experience Teaches Us

"I'm still not back to work, so you know what, every dime that's due me, I want it. I need food, I need to live, I have to pay my rent."

NBC Universal, Inc.

A women's championship bowling tournament was supposed to be held in Las Vegas in May and Debbie Varrs was going to cheer on her friends. 

“We were going to stay on the strip, and I was, of course, going to take in some shows and just make a little trip out of it,” Varrs said.

But COVID-19 hit. The tournament was postponed and Debbie cancelled her flight. She was happy that she had purchased trip insurance.

“I bought the ticket the beginning of March, and the trip wasn't until May 30, and so, because it was months away -- anytime I take a trip and I go somewhere and it’s months away -- I always put insurance on it,” said Varrs. “You never know what's going to happen.”

Coronavirus is changing the way we vacation this year. Nisreene Atassi, the global head of communications for Expedia, and Jeanette Casselano, the director of external communications for AAA, offer tips for how to get away from home safely — and how to get a refund if you have to cancel your trip.

She bought her ticket on cheaptickets.com and paid an extra $35 for a flight cancellation policy through Travel Guard Group, Inc., the booking site's insurance partner. She says she filed a claim for reimbursement in April. Weeks later, the insurance company asked for additional information, which she provided, but she didn't hear back.  

“I let weeks go by again, and I called again, cause I still hadn't heard anything from them,” said Varrs. “I contacted them about six or seven times. I'm still not back to work, so you know what, every dime that's due me, I want it. I need food, I need to live, I have to pay my rent.”

Frustrated, Debbie reached out to NBC10 Boston Responds for help. We contacted AIG, Travel Guard Group's parent company, and they said they would look into Debbie's claim. Her policy has many exclusions, but doesn't specifically reference a pandemic.  

AIG tells us that pandemic is generally not covered in their policies, but situations that arise from the pandemic may be. And they did reimburse Debbie $471.80 for her flight.

The TSA has new security rules to help keep people healthy while traveling.

AIG tells us, "In the midst of the unprecedented challenges caused by COVID-19, Travel Guard has deployed significant additional resources to meet the demands of an extraordinary volume of customer inquiries...Travel Guard will continue to look carefully at the specific facts and circumstances of each individual customer inquiry, as well as the relevant policy language, in honoring the commitments made to its customers."

“I'm just so happy,” said Varrs. “I'm just so grateful and thankful for you doing that, whatever you did. It worked and I really appreciate it.”

If you're considering booking a trip in the near future and purchasing travel insurance to protect your investment, as this COVID situation evolves, be sure to read the fine print carefully, check the exclusions and know the exact terms of the agreement.  

“The only way you can get coverage for trip cost loss to COVID-19 or any other pandemic is to buy ‘cancel for any reason’ insurance,” said Kevin Brasler with Boston Consumers’ Checkbook. “It's very expensive and it's only going to cover half your cost.”  

If you have a consumer problem you need help with, reach out to NBC10 Boston Responds at 1-888-521-NEWS or find us here: https://www.nbcboston.com/investigations/consumer/nbc-boston-responds/

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